Today is the Feast Day of St Fursey, a saint who has a much greater devotion on the continent than in his own native Ireland.
One of Four Comely Saints of the early Irish Christian Church, St Fursey was born to a pagan king married to a Christian princess in modern-day Connacht in the 7th century. Said to be baptised by St Brendan the traveller, he was educated by monks and went on to establish a monastery on the small island of Inchagoill on Lough Corrib in Co. Galway with his two brothers Foillan and Ultan.
St Fursey was the first recorded Irish missionary to Anglo-Saxon England, arriving in East Anglia (Norfolk and Suffolk) with his brothers where they converted the Picts and Saxons for many years before he travelled to France.
Legends and Lore
Legend says that by the power of prayer he raised two children from the dead. He became well known for his visions of monsters, demons, and angels. Indeed, one demon was thrown at him during one of his trances and burned him, giving him a mark. This story was recorded by the Venerable Bede and is thought to have influenced the Divinia Commedia by Dante.
St Fursey is also mentioned in relation to the Loch Bel Dracon.
From the Dindshenchas (lore of places) we get an understanding of the place name of Crotta Cliach. Sliabh Crotta Cliach translates to ‘mountains of the harps of Cliach’. Cliach Crotta Cliach is the ancient name for the Galtee Mountains in Co. Tipperary.
Cliach was a harper and was sent on behalf of the King of the Three Rosses in Connaught to invite King of the Tuatha De Danaan Bodb’s daughter Baine to his kingdom. Cliach played music near her fairy hill, however Bodb’s magic prevented his music from wooing her. Cliach continued to play his harp for a year, until beneath him the earth cracked open and a dragon burst out. Cliach died of terror, and the lake there is now called Loch Bel Dracon (‘the lake of the dragon’s mouth’, now known as Lake Muskry in Co. Tipperary).
St Fursey subsequently drove the dragon back into the lake, and there is a prophesy that the dragon will arise again on St John’s day at the end of the world and afflict Ireland in vengeance for the death of John the Baptist.
If you enjoy reading Irish mythology accompanied by compelling illustrations, consider reading Connemara-native Mark Joyce’s Mythical Irish Beasts (Currach Books).